Central settlement of the “9 May” collective farm in Väätsa, Paide region (1960s-). Photo: Arvi Kriis. Source:
VIIRMAA, V., KRIIS, A. 1983. Eesti kola ehitab, Tallinn, Eesti Raamat: 60 [cited in KALM, M. 2009. “Does Urban Life Make Farmers Happy? The Central Settlements of the Collective Farms in the Estonian SSR”, in: Bartetzky, Schalenberg, M. (Eds.), Urban Planning and the Pursuit of Happiness. European Variations on a Universal Theme (18th-21st Centuries). Jovis, Berlin, p. 128-147.]

Estonia / Latvia


The independent Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) were occupied by the Soviet Union in 1944-5 and turned into Soviet Republics. Their efficient interwar agricultural economies based on single family farms and on the redistribution of Baltic German estates were broken up. During occupation, Soviet communist ideology pervaded all state-driven policies. The better-off farmers were deported to Siberia; land was forcefully nationalised and collectivised.

Existing farms were reorganized in either one of these two types: the collective farm or kolkhoz (kollectivnoe khosiaistvo), and the sovhoz or state farm (sovietskoe khosiaistvo). The establishment of these new agricultural systems were accompanied by large scale land reorganisation, improvements (“meliorisation”), drainage schemes. New villages were set up near the kolkhoz centres, in an area of traditionally dispersed settlement. They comprised modernist blocks of flats to relocate the expropriated local farmers, and many other public buildings and facilities (administrations, schools, grain silos, machinery workshops and stations, cattle sheds, dairies, sheds, water towers), including educational institutions to train technicians and agronomists, plant breeding stations, brickworks and prefabricated construction materials factories.

Propaganda, books and films celebrated the Soviet agricultural achievements, while Estonian and Latvian folk music, dance and costume were tolerated (eventually leading to the ‘Singing Revolution’).

After 1991, land returned to the original owners, most collective farms became redundant and were used as building material reservoirs, and some were kept in use. The blocks of flats are still inhabited, but decaying, as are other non-agricultural buildings. Despite the 24 years elapsed since the regaining of independence the landscape and architectural ensembles still represent an ‘Ideological landscape’.

The post-Soviet changes such as social decline, land abandonment, the question of national landscapes, and attempts to document the life and memories of the kolkhoz years have been undertaken and published in English as well as Estonian and Latvian. However, scholarship is still sparse and uncoordinated. Considerable archival materials exist from Soviet times in both countries which form a significant database, and the respective Museums of Soviet Occupation also comprehensively document the Soviet years.

A recent Estonian programme aims to demolish many ruined buildings. So far, no attempts have been made to survey and evaluate if even a representative sample should be preserved for historical purposes. There is a common denial of the memory of Soviet occupation. However, the remains of this period are omnipresent, and coping with such ‘dissonant landscape’ is central against trends towards restoring ‘idealized’ pre-WWII ‘national landscapes’.

Kalm, M. (2007), “The Oasis of Industrialised Countryside in Soviet Estonia”, in A. Kervanto-Nevanlinna éd., Industry and Modernism. Companies, Architecture and Identity in the Nordic and Baltic Countries during the High-Industrial Period, Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura: 352‑71.
Kalm, M. (2009), « Does Urban Life Make Farmers Happy? The Central Settlements of the Collective Farms in the Estonian SSR », in A. Bartetzky – M. Schalenberg, éd., Urban Planning and the Pursuit of Happiness. European Variations on a Universal Theme (18th-21st Centuries), Berlin: Jovis: 128−147.
Kalm, M. , (2013) « Collective Farms of Soviet Estonia: Promoters of Architecture », in C. Caldenby – O. Wedebrunn, éd., Survival of Modern from Cultural Centres to Planned Suburbs, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts: 22‑33.
Nikodemus, O. et al. (2005), “Impact of economic, social and political factors on the landscape structure of the Vidzeme Uplands in Latvia”, Landscape and Urban Planning, 70: 57-67.